In Consideration of M.F.A. Programs, Contemporary American Poetry, Working workshops

Recently, I had the chance to interview Ray Hammond, editor of the New York Quarterly and NYQ Books, for the Schuylkill Valley Journal. More specifically, we talked about his book, Poetic Amusement, which addresses the proliferation of M.F.A. programs, writing workshops, and creative writing departments. We also talked about American poetry in the age of Trump. I think it is well-worth the read, as Ray offers some honest opinions about the effectiveness of writing workshops and the publish or perish mindset that is part of creative writing departments.

Full disclosure: I completed my M.F.A. in 2010, and for me, it was a worthwhile experience that gave me the space and time to write, as well as a community of writers; that said, I do think there are some serious points to consider in this interview.

Click here to read the interview.

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A Poem about Zombies!

Over the last few months, I’ve written a series of poems about horror movies. This came about because I am working on a horror literature and film adaptation course, so for a month or two, I revisited a number of film theory articles and horror movies. All of this reading rubbed off on my poetry and gave me a new project. The poems have also given me the space to deal with the age of Trump in my own way, through writing. Horror, when done well, can be a metaphor for national or global anxieties and fears. I have a personal connection to the genre, too. Growing up, I watched old horror movies with my dad, and it was a chance to bond with him, especially since I didn’t like sports. This poem is about Night of the Living Dead, one of his favorites. Most haunting to me about the film is the last two minutes.

Check out the poem, published by Gravel, here.

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Writers’ Showcase THIS Saturday

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If you’re around the Scranton area this Saturday, I encourage you to attend the Writers’ Showcase. We have a fantastic line-up of authors who will be sharing their work. Here are their bios:

Amanda J. Bradley is the author of three books of poems: Queen Kong (2017), Oz at Night (2011), and Hints and Allegations (2009). She has published poetry and essays in many journals including Paterson Literary Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Kin Poetry Journal, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, and Poetry Bay. Amanda is a graduate of the MFA program at The New School, and she holds a PhD in English and American Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. She is an Assistant Professor at Keystone College outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Barbara J. Taylor has an MFA in creative writing from Wilkes University. Her latest novel, All Waiting Is Long, is the sequel to her debut novel, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, named a “Best Book of Summer 2014” by Publishers Weekly. In addition to writing, Barbara has been teaching high school English for 30 years.

Al Manorek is an aspiring writer and poet originally from Shavertown. He is an active member of NEPA Creative Writers and the Game Chateau Writers. He enjoys performing at various local
open mics throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania. He was drawn to writing at the tender age of twelve when he began writing short stories and poetry. He loves working as a Regional Substitute Teacher for Bright Horizons Family Solutions. He is an avid home brewer and professionally guest bartenders for friends in need.

Heather Harlen is the author of the Marina Konyeshna thriller series (Northampton House Press). SHAME, SHAME, I KNOW YOUR NAME is the second book in the thrillogy. Heather was born and raised in Northeastern Pennsylvania and has coal dust in her blood, so this series takes place in the Wilkes-Barre area. She earned an M.A. in creative writing from Wilkes University and currently teachies high school English in Allentown. Her writing has been featured in publications such as Hippocampus and Yoganonymous. Find out more at www.heatherharlen.com.

Robert Fillman won the poetry contest at the 2016 Pennsylvania Writers Conference at Wilkes University and has been featured as a “Showcase Poet” in the Aurorean. Recently, his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Blueline, Chiron Review, Off the Coast, Pembroke Magazine, Spillway, and others. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate and Teaching Fellow at Lehigh University, where he also edits the university literary magazine, Amaranth, and runs the Drown Writers Series. He lives in eastern Pennsylvania with his wife, Melissa, and their two children, Emma and Robbie.

Authors will have books for sale, too!

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Two Award-Winning Poets Visiting the Region

If you’re in NEPA, there are two events worth checking out this week. Two poetry heavyweights are giving FREE readings! First, Maria Mazziotti Gillan is reading at Keystone College, in Evans Hall, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

Here is her bio:

Ms. Gillan has published 21 books, most recently the poetry collection What Blooms in Winter (NYQ, 2016) and the poetry collection with some of her paintings, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets (Redux Consortium). She is the founder and executive director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, Paterson, N.J. and editor of the Paterson Literary Review. Ms. Gillan is also director of the creative writing program and professor of poetry at Binghamton University-SUNY. She is the recipient of many awards for poetry and service to the literary community. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, New Letters, The New York Times, Poetry Ireland, Connecticut Review, The Los Angeles Review, The Christian Science Monitor, LIPS, and Rattle, as well as numerous other journals and anthologies.

Second, Yusef Komunyakaa is reading at Binghamton University this Thursday evening. For his bio and details about the reading, click here.

We’re lucky to have two big names and wonderful poetry advocates visiting this region within a day of each other.

 

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Philadelphia Writers Conference and Interview

I don’t usually promote conferences and residencies on this blog because there are SO many of them, and it’s hard to keep track. However, I do like to promotes ones that are semi-local, and more importantly, affordable. I became aware of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference when my friend Uriah became a board member a few years ago. I dug in and researched the conference more, trying to see how it differed from the hundreds upon hundreds of others writers conferences that exist throughout the U.S.  Here is where I think it differs: its focus is multi-genre, with a heavy emphasis on bettering one’s craft.  It has several panels and workshops dedicated to craft. So, essentially, it is not just a place to pitch ideas to agents or hawk a poetry manuscript. Sure there is some of that, but there is also a lot of attention given to strengthening one’s skills. If you take the time to attend some of the workshops, you’ll leave with additional tools and ideas, not just business cards.

If you’re looking to attend something in PA and visit my favorite U.S. city (Philly), then check out the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. You can still register, too.

In the meantime, if you want, you can check out this video interview I did with Uriah, on behalf of the conference, as a means to talk about writing and poetry.

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In Defense Of…

Confession: for a few months, I pondered ending the reading series that I’ve been running for over five years, The Writers’ Showcase. The series has undergone a lot since its inception, including three venue changes and a co-host who moved to Philadelphia. However, after talking to writer friends from across the county, I’ve decided to keep it going. I’m grateful to them for sparking my motivation to keep doing this thing. We’ve had a lot of conversations about the Trump age and what this means for the arts, namely if the NEA and NHE are totally defunded, which has been proposed in the Trump budget. No matter the fate of those organizations, it is imperative that we keep these local reading series going as a means to give a voice to writers. Writers have always been a form of resistance, and we need to ensure that we have spaces and series to make their work available to the public. With that in mind, I am going to host another edition of the Writers’ Showcase in April, and we’re thrilled about the line-up, which is included on the flyer below. I am also committing myself to continue writing book reviews for other writers. My goal is to write 4-6 reviews a year, a schedule I’ve been able to keep up with over the last few years and one I think I can maintain. Here is a new review I wrote of Patrick T. Reardon’s book Requiem for David, which I highly recommend. I was not familiar with his work until the editor of At the Inkwell asked me if I wanted to review it. Another goal for me is to review books of authors I’m not familiar with, as a way to expose myself to work outside of my usual circle and do the same for others.

Let’s think about ways that we can continue supporting our local art scenes because we really need that right now.

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When it gets closer to the date, I will post the bios of our featured writers for April.

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Some New Words

I want to give a shout-out and thank you to The Schuylkill Valley Journal and Glassworks for publishing some of my new work. The Schuylkill Valley Journal published my essay “Revisiting Emerson: Why His Ideas on Genius Matter Now.” The essay was written before and after the election, in response to the international surge of right-wing populism. More so, the essay explores some of Emerson and Thoreau’s key ideas about protest and the American tradition. The essay can be read online here, and it will appear in print this summer.

Glassworks literary magazine published my poem “I Go Back to January 2015” in the new spring print and online issue. You can read the entire issue here. I encourage you to consider subscribing to either or both magazines, as they are two of my favorites in the tri-state area.

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